NANOTECHNOLOGY IN MILITARY APPLICATIONS

Teams headed by  Zafar Iqbal, research professor of chemistry, and  Haim Grebel, professor of electrical and computer engineering, are utilizing single wall carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) in military applications.

In work funded by the U.S. Army NanoValley program with Picatinny Arsenal, commercially viable, scalable processes to produce single wall carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs, (shown above left) and SWCNT-steel netshape nanocomposites, are being developed by the research teams. SWCNT-steel nanocomposites fabricated in the university's laboratories are lightweight and expected to have enhanced mechanical properties due to the extremely high yield strength of SWCNTs. These composites are therefore likely to find widespread use as structural materials in a variety of military and transportation applications. Detailed insights regarding the growth of the carbon nanotubes have been obtained by directly observing their formation inside an environmental transmission electron microscope (above, right).

The image on the left shows three types of SWCNTs (top to bottom), metallic, zig-zag semiconducting and chiral semiconducting of different diameters. On the right, are nanotubes under construction -- images of nanotubes seen in the first few minutes of growth in an environmental electron microscope.

In an application area involving carbon nanotubes funded by the U.S. Army Smart Materiel Program, the team has demonstrated that p-n junction coatings deposited from paint or suspensions of positively or negatively charged and polymer-modified SWCNTs, function as novel smart coatings. Electrical currents generated by the p-n junctions in the coatings will trigger self-repair processes to heal the coatings in the event of corrosion or mechanical damage. The researchers are also developing nanocomposite coatings of SWCNTs in electroluminescent conducting polymers, which can change color or sense coating damage. These smart coatings are expected to open up new application avenues both for the military and industry.